Remarks by Assistant Administrator Nancy Lindborg at the Launch of the UN Humanitarian Response Plan

Monday, February 3, 2014

[As Prepared]

Good afternoon.

Thank you, Valerie and to FAO, for hosting us here today in Rome. Thank you Regional Humanitarian Coordinator Robert Piper and to the humanitarian coordinators from nine Sahelian countries who led the ground-breaking process behind the humanitarian response plan we have come together to launch today.

Thank you to all of you and to our humanitarian partners for your partnership and collaborative spirit in what has been one of the most comprehensive and far-reaching appeal efforts to date; and finally, thank you especially to each of the Ministers from the governments across the region who have joined us today to partner in charting a better way forward for the people of the Sahel. 

Today, I am proud that USAID has been part of the first three-year humanitarian plan for the Sahel with a comprehensive strategy to address persistent vulnerabilities—and the built-in flexibility to meet urgent and often changing needs. Congratulations to OCHA for leading this band of change—and importantly, for helping us chart a response not dictated by sectors and stovepipes but fundamentally shaped around the host of key challenges we face in this region—from nutrition to natural disasters to displacement. This truly represents a step forward.

It’s a pleasure for me to be back here in Rome with this particular team who, together, moved quickly and effectively to respond to the Sahel’s last crisis in 2012 that affected some 18 million people—and helped to ensure that a grim situation did not take an even greater toll.

Now millions of people still facing food insecurity across the region, with UN estimates of 1.2 million severely insecure and 1.5 million at risk of severe malnutrition despite good harvests in 2012 and 2013, we’re reminded of the ever chronic nature of crisis in the Sahel.

With high rates of child malnutrition under even the best of circumstances, one poor harvest can push millions into severe risk. And we know that when shocks hit—droughts, floods, locusts—it is inevitably the most vulnerable populations that are the hardest hit, often without the chance to recover before new shocks strike.

The outcome is a cycle of crisis that millions cannot escape, resulting in great hardship, great costs, and the loss of hard-won development gains.

In the last three years since the severe crises in both the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, we have seen a new, shared recognition that shocks are driving the same communities in the same regions into crisis again and again—with climate change, these shocks are coming more frequently and more intensely. In some places, these rates could increase dramatically.

In the Sahel, with the population anticipated to double by 2050, the challenges become ever greater; the stakes are high and time is not on our side.

That’s why it’s incumbent on all of us to take a close look in the mirror and push ourselves to do business differently. At USAID, we’re bringing our humanitarian and development teams together to identify and support shared solutions and maximize the impact of investments from both funding streams.

Today, I’m pleased to report that we have committed new funds to an unprecedented initiative called RISE, which stands for “Resilience in the Sahel Enhanced.” RISE commits more than $130 million in both humanitarian and development funds over the first two years of a five-year effort to build resilience in carefully identified, targeted zones in Niger and Burkina Faso—precisely to help families and communities get ahead of the next shock.

In this part of the world where we see vast humanitarian needs every year resulting from the region’s combustible mix chronic poverty, food insecurity, drought, conflict, and violent extremism, RISE brings our humanitarian and development programs together in a joint package, to build resilience and address humanitarian needs, through efforts to strengthen institutions and governance, increase sustainable economic wellbeing, and improve health and nutrition.

These new efforts in Niger and Burkina Faso are the result of rigorous on-the-ground analysis—and intentionally focus on geographic zones where new investments can be layered, sequenced, and integrated with existing humanitarian and development assistance to give an estimated 1.9 million of the most vulnerable people in those areas a real chance to break the cycle of crisis, to escape chronic poverty—and to lessen their need for humanitarian assistance in the future.

In addition, RISE will leverage existing U.S. assistance in new ways—together with our development partners, civil society, local governments, and the Global Alliance for Resilience in the Sahel (AGIR) to advance the resilience dividend in a region that sorely needs it.

RISE is just one concrete result coming out of our new commitment, formalized in the 2012 release of USAID’s policy and program guidance on “Building Resilience to Recurrent Crisis,” to focus more of our development dollars on the most vulnerable, to help build their adaptive capacity—and to improve the ability of communities, countries, and systems to manage risk.

As we focus on building resilience we remain just as committed to saving lives so against today’s appeal, I’m also pleased to announce an additional $85 million in humanitarian assistance to meet the especially worrisome, acute symptoms of food insecurity we’re seeing in Mali, Niger, and Chad.

Both meeting these needs and working together to lessen that need at its core are vital elements of any strategy to ensure greater food security and to realizing President Obama’s goal—and our shared global commitment to—end extreme poverty by 2030.

Just this past week, UNDP released a report that found that developing countries experienced an 11 percent increase in the gap between rich and poor between 1990 and 2010. Our shared mission must remain inclusive growth with benefits and progress for all. In the Sahel, this will be vital to truly help all of the African continent rise.

The road will be bumpy and long, but the collective efforts that bring us here today, continue to give me confidence that, together, we can get there.

Thank you.

Rome, Italy